FREDERICKSBURG, Ohio — Several years ago, members of the Amish community in and around Wayne County, Ohio, noticed a change in their culture. Farming, which once served as the core of their lifestyle, was on its way out.
There were fewer farms than ever and the movement away from agriculture troubled community leaders.
In 2003, a group of 20 families decided to do something about it.
They formed Green Field Farms, a nonprofit cooperative for Amish and conservative Mennonite farmers dedicated to providing fresh, organic products to regional customers.
“We have what many people want, but we have to get our message to the masses,” said Wayne Wengerd, the co-op’s chief executive officer.
Today, the co-op has grown to include 110 members in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Farmers are members of Plain Community churches and rely on horses and buggies for transportation.
Governed by a 20-member board, the co-op helps farmers maintain more control over what they produce. In the past, marketing ended at the farm gate, Wengerd said, but Green Field Farms hopes to give that part of farming back to the farmers.
“For us to market our own products is new and different,” Wengerd added.
The co-op markets organic produce, cheese, brown eggs, maple tree distillate and maple syrup.
The distillate — one of the co-op’s newest products — is rain and snow that has been filtered through a maple tree and distilled into a beverage. It is collected during the sap-to-syrup boiling process and vacuum sealed while it’s still about 200 degrees.
The main function of Green Field Farms is to oversee the development of profitable markets for its farmers, which is accomplished several ways.
Milk from Green Field Farms dairies is processed into organic cheese at Steiner and Middlefield cheese plants. The co-op then does some of its own distribution, along with help from three outside distributors.
For produce, many stores buy directly from the farms. But the co-op also picks up produce and takes it to a warehouse for immediate distribution.
Co-op members are held to USDA organic standards and farms are inspected regularly.
Most Green Field Farms producers grow their own animal feed and use animal waste to fertilize their fields. Fields are cultivated with horse-drawn plows and no chemicals are used to control pests or weeds.
Producers also care for the soil by rotating crops, using lime to sweeten the soil and tilling crushed eggshells into the ground to add calcium.
Green Field Farms has three goals. First, co-op members want to grow blemish-free produce. Second, it aims to provide fresh dairy and egg products that are higher quality than its conventional counterparts. Third, the cooperative wants to help its members maintain a plain lifestyle and earn a living through farming.
The co-op has experienced a lot of growth over the past couple of years, doubling in size since 2006.
Green Field Farms products can be found in 140 stores in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. Those stores include Whole Food Markets, Buehler’s Food Markets, Super Kmarts, Mustard Seed Market and Cafe and Riesbeck’s Food Markets.